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Hedge fund managers' pay pushes limits of sanity

Writing about highly compensated businesspeople is a topic that no longer belongs on the Working page or the Business section.

It should appear in columns labeled "Science Fiction," because the latest numbers of what some people earned last year are out of this world.

How does a newspaper write that the average weekly wage in Florida is now a whopping $741, then note that a hedge fund manager last year was making the equivalent of $71-million — a week.

Newspapers wrote routinely about Fortune 500 CEOs and their "outrageous" pay packages. You know, the guys (and they are still mostly guys) pulling in $10-million, $20-million and sometimes $30-million a year. (See the survey on pay noted to the left in the Water Cooler column.)

That's chump change.

Then newspapers refocused on Wall Street chiefs at Goldman Sachs and Bear Stearns (the same Bear Stearns that just went under), whose annual pay package soared into the $60-million, $80-million and sometimes even $150-million range.

How pedestrian. How 1990s.

Enter perfectly named Alpha magazine, which Wednesday published the rankings of top earners among hedge fund executives (see list below). For those in the Rip Van Winkle fan club, hedge funds are little-regulated investment funds for wealthy individuals and institutions that use aggressive strategies unavailable to mutual funds, including selling short, leverage, program trading, swaps, arbitrage and derivatives.

When Alpha published its inaugural list, in 2002, George Soros led the way with a mere $700-million, a showing that this year would have put him at No. 9. Back then it took $30-million to crack the top 25. Now it takes $360-million.

With the exception of Soros, who has a reputation as a Democratic fundraiser, most names below are obscure. But many influence us — even here in the Tampa Bay area. Some examples:

• Top earner John Paulson — he hit the jackpot by making contrarian bets on the collapse of the housing market — just hired ex-Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan as a trophy adviser.

• James Simons and his Renaissance Technologies was, until not too long ago, a prominent investor in Tampa's WellCare Health Plans.

• And Phil Falcone's Harbinger Capital wants Media General to run a tighter ship by, among other things, unloading the Tampa Tribune.

None of this should surprise. When such wealth is so concentrated in the hands of so few, their fingerprints can be found all over the world.

Who got the megabucks?

2007 earnings* for best-paid hedge fund managers

1 John Paulson, Paulson & Co. $3.7-billion

2 George Soros, Soros

Fund Management $2.9-billion

3 James Simons, Renaissance

Technologies Corp. $2.8-billion

4 Philip Falcone, Harbinger Capital

Partners $1.7-billion

5 Kenneth Griffin, Citadel Investment

Group $1.5-billion

6 Steven Cohen, SAC Capital Advisors

$900-million

7 Timothy Barakett, Atticus Capital $750-million

8 Stephen Mandel Jr., Lone Pine

Capital $710-million

9 John Griffin, Blue Ridge Capital $625-million

10 O. Andreas Halvorsen, Viking

Global Investors $520-million

* Earnings include managers' shares of fees

as well as gains on their own capital.

Source: Alpha magazine

Hedge fund managers' pay pushes limits of sanity 04/19/08 [Last modified: Monday, April 21, 2008 11:08am]
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